Sunday, May 11, 2014

my earth is somebody's ceiling

But O, what art can teach,
 What human voice can reach,
 The sacred organ's praise?
 Notes inspiring holy love, 
Notes that wing their heavenly ways
 To mend the choirs above. 
--John Dryden, a Song for St. Cecilia's Day

I biked through the green, green world with the grey squirrels scampering through the tombstones in the cemetery.
I sang quietly, so as not to disturb the sleep of those under the ground as I biked back to the mausoleum at the center of the cemetery. Although at first I thought the sunlight was sort of intrusive, as if mist and dark and fog were more native atmospheres for the cemetery, I realized by the time that I stopped my bike and stared at the smooth, warm stones of the mausoleum that the sunlight and my song were both welcome intruders.
The sheer walls of sandstone were etched with names of many people who had gone before me. I stared at the stern metal statue of the sorrowful lady looking into at her dead son, draped over the globe that he had given his life to save.
I examined each wall, seeing all the names. Some familiar, some not. I walked across the warm, rich bricks to see the sea of green grass beyond, only a few shiny stones marking the newest graves.
I turned, and I saw a man and his father alight from a car to visit a grave.  
I looked at them and prayed the only words that we know how to say at such times: 
rest in peace.
I biked past them. Suddenly, very suddenly, I stopped.
There, on the side of the path was the spot for which I had been searching.
I left my bike right in the middle of the path, as I approached the tombstone with the hopeful words.
what art can teach/ what human voice can reach/the sacred organ's praise?
I knelt down on the soft earth in front of the grave.
That's the awkward thing about graves. I'm never sure where I ought to put my feet. So I just knelt slightly off to the left. I felt that was a respectful spot to kneel.
I said the words over and over, my mind to full of adrenaline to read them properly at first. You know when you're first so excited to see a certain passage or a familiar verse that you greedily read the words, without really reading them. You're gobbling up the words, but you have to go back and re-read them more delicately. Speed-reading poetry is like scarfing down wine. Pointless.
So I slowed down my excitement and attempted to decipher the puzzle of words that was mixed up in the birdsong and the sunshine and the noise of cars driving by and the eternal, peaceful silence of the graveyard.

I righted the pot of lilies that the ferocious wind had knocked over. I noted the daffodils. Took a moment to observe their significant, wilting trumpets.
And I tried to think of something to say.
Thank you.
 The familiar words turned to poppies in my mouth.
Just the day before, I had stared at a man who had written to Mother Teresa, back in 1986, and asked her to come speak at his university's commencement. Understandably, she had to decline, because the Missionaries of Charity's final vows were that weekend. But she wrote back to him and his entire class, and the letter was read at his commencement ceremony.
People who have such a deep connection to Mother often long to see Kolkata for themselves, to see this place that is so deeply stamped with her person.
But this man had given his money not to fund his own way to Kolkata, but to fund mine.
I was rendered speechless and utterly inarticulate as the immense weight of my deep debt of gratitude to this man settled on my shoulders.
It is so easy to forget about all the people who touch your life and impact it indisputably. 
Without them, moments you take for granted would never have taken place.
I don't know how to describe that feeling you get while looking at another human being who has done everything for you and asked for nothing in return.
The feeling you get when you truly see your mother for the first time, and the weight of what it means to be a mother strikes you.
The feeling I got when that man just asked to hear a simple story about Kolkata, and all I had to offer was a half-pieced together story about Shakina.
The feeling I found when I knelt at that beautiful tombstone where there were lilies and daffodils blooming.
I trembled as I think these stirrings in my soul are just an inkling of what it must be like to look at the Lord of the Universe. The human heart will not be able to stand that.

As I sat at that grave, I felt tears, unlooked for and unexpected arrive.
The immense impact this woman and the work she had done had on my life struck me as I knelt on the soft spring ground, watered by the tears of April, giving way to the blooms of May.
We shared a smile as I whispered the words of Sarah Ruhl to the woman underneath the polished granite: This is what it is to love an artist: the moon is always rising above your house. The good that this woman had done was certainly not interred with her bones. I thought of through her work how I had learned to love an entire world of music that I had never given much thought or notice to before; I would never have understood the grandeur or mystery of the organ's music, notes that mend the choirs above; I had learned how generations of men and women had sung their praise; how there was a whole new language of prayer I had not known before; through her I had met sweeter and dearer friends than I could have ever hoped.
 I don't know if many years from now if some young girl I never met will kneel at my tombstone, blubbering like a sentimental moron, but I did think in that moment that I think that is what the communion of saints might be all about. I thought of Oscar Romero's famous quote that goes something to the effect of "we are prophets of a future not our own." Which, I suppose, means that the good work we keep trying to do each and every day will maybe one day touch someone who has never touched us.
 It gives a frightfully eternal aspect to all our actions.
I was interrupted from my sunlit vigil by the two men, now back in their car, puttering down the path. 
My bicycle, which I had impulsively abandoned right dab smack in the middle of the path (considerate of me) was blocking his way.
So I dashed up to move the offending obstruction out of his way. When you know someone has suffered real pain, you feel that they oughtn't to have to deal with trivial daily annoyances like bicycles blocking their paths. 
Apologetically, I waved to the car.
The elderly gentleman was driving, and he looked right into my eyes and protested: "oh I could go around"
As I started to protest with a generic: "oh that's alright," "no worries," "not a problem," I looked back into his eyes.
He looked at me with a look of kinship.
Of someone who knows what pain is, looking at another human being who he knows can feel what he has felt. He knew then that he was not alone. There I was, a little intruder in the graveyard, and there he was, a man who knew what loss truly meant. But somehow, in that moment we understood one another.
There, in that graveyard under the bright sky, with sunlight dancing off the slender blades of grass between the tombstones, I knew what the communion of saints was.

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